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On-line Book Review


Dimension: 23.6 x 16.1 x 3.8 cm
TITLE Theories of Fugue from the Age of Josquin to the Age of Bach by Paul Mark Walker (= Eastman Studies in Music, vol. 13)
PUBL. DETAILS University of Rochester Press, 2000. 485p. Hardback. Price: £75/$120
ISBN 1-58046-029-1
TO ORDER University of Rochester Press, P. O. Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 3DF
DESCRIPTION Comprehensive study on theoretical writings about fugues between c.1500 and 1750.
WORKS COVERED No direct discussion of Bach's works
READERSHIP Scholars and students interested in the history of fugues
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Significant contribution to our better understanding of the history of fugues.

Bach’s fugues fascinate us as ever. Their stylistic variety, powerful contrapuntal logic, and above all their beauty when performed are some of the exceptional qualities which make Bach’s fugues one of the finest specimens for anyone who wish to pursue academic study in music. Yet when stepping out of Bach’s world—not only of his works and of those by his immediate predecessors but also of their theoretical treatises—to examine the origin and the early development of this genre, hoping to find out the historical context in which Bach accomplished this extraordinary achievement, one would be surprised to find how little there were from which we can learn.

This impressive volume by Walker examines in detail the long history of fugue and the writings about it from the days of Josquin, Tinctoris and Zarlino to Mattheson and Fux, attempting to discover from over two hundred years of continual evolution of the genre, which we now know today through Bach’s masterworks how it came to exist and how it was gradually developed.

Contents in brief
Part I:
Fugal Theory of the Renaissance and Early Baroque
Fugue in the High Renaissance
Fugue at the End of the Renaissance, Part I: Italy and the Netherlands
Fugue at the End of the Renaissance, Part II: Germany
German Theory during the Thirty Years War: Fugue in Latin School Music Texts
Part II:
The Genesis of the Modern Fugue: Italy and Germany in the Mid-Seventeenth Century
Italian Influence on German Fugal Theory, 1640-1680
Instrumental Fugue and the Emergence of Fugal Structure in the Third Quarter of the Seventeenth Century. 
Invertible Counterpoint and the Hamburg Circle of Theorists
Part III:
German Fugal Theory of the Mature Baroque, 1680-1740
Fugal Theory, 1680-1710
Fugal Theory in German Lexicographic Texts.
Fugal Theory, 1710-1740: Mattheson and Fux
 very thorough and information rich yet remarkably readable
It is interesting to learn that in an early days of its history there was a terminological confusion between fugue and other similar names such as canon, ricercar and imitation; the author claims that the fugue was understood and defined differently from period to period / region to region, and that the definition was sometimes unclear and twisted, so that a careful study is required not only from their context of theoretical background but also from practical examples.
The most valuable part of Walker’s contribution is his careful examination of individual theorists’ definition of various terms (esp. ‘fuga such and such’) and fugal techniques (e.g. ‘tonal answer’): what each theorist learnt from the previous theorists and what he rejected; what was new meanings that he invented in his terms, and what was his influence and contribution to the next generations. Walker’s discussion is both thorough and methodical. The extensive use of numerous primary (i.e. pre-1800) and secondary sources is evident, which is in itself a marvellous achievement; yet more remarkable is the fact that his discussion is clearly structured and easily digestible. His glossary (pp. 413–447) where he collects and summarises 295 terms is enormously helpful, too: it assists readers who may otherwise find it very difficult to get through reading this complex subject.

Although the author rightly acknowledges that exhaustive studies from the practical side are yet to be carried out in order to put all the theoretical points into perspective, this is clearly a very important contribution to our better understanding of the history of fugue.

Published on-line on 21 February 2001

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